David Barton, the Christian Right operative who talks about the past, recently spoke at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, California. GOP representative Madison Cawthorn introduced Barton. The pastor of the church is Rob McCoy. Learn more about McCoy and his church here.
Let’s break it down.
6:00ff: McCoy compares vaccine and mask mandates to the Holocaust. McCoy is not leading a church here, he is leading a political rally.
15:00ff: McCoy introduces Madison Cawthorn, who keeps the political rally going. Cawthorn says he is on a mission to protect young people from the lies of socialism, incorrect history, and those who “desire to be governed.” (The latter is an odd thing for a member of the House of Representatives to say.” Cawthorn then offers these words to the Christian congregation gathered for its weekly service: “This patriotic fervor that you feel in this room. This love and desire that you have for the tenets that we hear in this word (he holds up his Bible) from God that predate any version of government. That God gave us free will, that God gave us liberty. This is felt all around the country.” This idolatrous fusion of God and country is indeed “felt all around the country.”
22:45ff: Barton says that “history is something that is now becoming a political tool.” The implication here is that the Left is using it as a tool, but Barton is not. I’m not sure how Barton can be less self-aware. He adds that those on the Left control the schools and are creating a “narrative that has never existed in our history.” Barton is probably right here. Why? Because prior to World War II, much of the historical narrative taught in schools did not respect the human dignity (Gen 1:26-27) of all people who lived within the bounds of this country. Barton prefers to preserve older narratives that celebrate Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy, the KKK, Indian Removal, and the idea that the American founders created a Christian nation. Christians concerned about truth and human dignity should be glad that these older narratives have been replaced by narratives that are more inclusive. Barton says that the progressives want us to learn that we have “been fundamentally flawed” throughout our history. Any Christian who believes in Genesis 3 should not be surprised that we are a flawed nation. (Check out Wheaton College historian Tracy McKenzie’s new book on the subject. We talked to him here).
To summarize: Barton’s “Judeo-Christian” approach to history rejects two core tenets of Judaism and Christianity: human dignity and sin. Barton wants schools to tell a story about the past that does not respect the human dignity of all people created in God’s image or the theological belief that human beings are fallen creatures and have acted in horrendous ways in the past as a result of that sin.
23:30: Barton attacks Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I have argued that there a lot of problems with Zinn’s approach to American history. In many ways, he is the mirror image of Barton. It should not surprise us that when History News Network surveyed American historians they concluded that Barton’s The Jefferson Lies and Zinn’s A People’ History were the two “least credible history books in print.”
25:00: Barton says that for the past “forty years” American historians have only been talking about the “ugly” dimensions of the past. Such a claim works as a political mantra to rally the base, but it ignores thousands of works on heroic figures in the United States. At Messiah University, the Christian college where I work, we just hosted Pulitzer Prize-winning Yale University historian David Blight. He dazzled us with a lecture on Frederick Douglass, the “prophet of freedom.”
I would encourage you to read Barton’s works and try to find any sustained discussion of the effects of sin, brokenness, and tragedy. Heck, this is the guy who actually tried to get Jefferson off the hook for slavery. Barton is arguing against a straw man.
26:06: Now the blatant untruths start spewing from Barton’s mouth. Barton says of the AP US History course: “Somehow they managed to neglect all of the founding fathers, they somehow managed to neglect all of the American War for Independence–America did not become an independent nation, we didn’t fight for anything back then. They also managed to neglect all of the Abraham Lincoln stories, so there is no Gettysburg Address, there is no Emancipation Proclamation, there’s no Civil War because there was no military commanders…the Civil War is gone out of the history standards.” He says that Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazi’s are also not in the standards.
Is Barton right about this? I looked at the 2020 AP United States History Course and Exam Description. It is available online. You can read it here.
First, it is important to realize that the AP US History Standards does not offer a list of figures and events that must be covered. Rather, the standards include summative descriptions of what teachers should cover. So to claim that a person or event is not mentioned is disingenuous.
- Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, the resistance to British taxation, George Washington’s “military leadership,” the Continental Army, patriotic militias, the resilience of the colonial troops, the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison are all mentioned. Barton might also be pleased to learn that the AP US History course standards note that “religion strengthened Americans’ view of themselves as a people blessed with liberty.” I’m sorry David Barton, the AP course does include the founding fathers, the war, and the causes of independence. You are deliberately manipulating the evidence and failing to tell the truth.
- Let’s turn to Barton’s claims about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Students are asked to chronicle the “causes of the Civil War” between 1848 and 1861. They study the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the way the Union and Confederacy mobilized for war, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address. This took me five minutes to look up. Any citizen can do it. Barton is not telling the truth.
- And now let’s turn to Barton’s take on World War II in the AP course. Students taking this course learn about the rise of Nazi Germany, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States’ mobilization for war, America’s “fight for survival” against “fascist and militant” ideologies” and the U.S. liberation of “Nazi concentration camps.” Again, Barton is either ignorant or blatantly lying. He owes the people of his congregation, the College Board, and the hard-working historians who created the Advanced Placement US History course, an apology.
28:00ff: Barton defends the use of the atomic bomb in Japan during World War II.
31:00ff: Barton says that state history standards do not teach the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, or the Holocaust. Again this is false. I looked at several state history and social standards back in August when Missouri senator Josh Hawley was promoting his “Love America Act.” But for the sake of argument, let’s look at some of the standards in a few liberal states.
- California: In 8th grade, students have a whole unit on the American Revolution, the Constitution, and the Civil War. In 11th grade they learn about Reconstruction, World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust.
- Massachusetts: In 5th grade, students learn about the American Revolution, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Civil War. In high school they learn again about the American Revolution and the Civil War as well as World War I and World War II.
- New York: Students learn about the American Revolution in Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 7, and Grade 11. They learn about World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust in Grade 10. They learn about the Civil War in Grade 11.
32:00: Barton says that because schools are “not teaching” the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust we are “seeing the rise of Marxism and socialism.”
32:15: Barton treats racism as individual acts, not systemic problems.
32:47: Barton talks about the northern states passing abolition laws after the American Revolution. This is true, but most of these states passed gradual emancipation laws. Some of these states still had slaves while they were mustering troops to fight the Confederacy during the Civil War. Barton also makes a mistake that is common among those on the Christian Right. He confuses slavery and racism. In other words, he assumes that systemic racism ended when the United States abolished slavery.
35:00: Barton does not understand critical race theory. He thinks that critical race theorists believe that the American Revolution was forged to “protect and preserve” slavery.” This is not true.(I offered a definition of CRT here). Even the 1619 Project has backed-off of this claim.
36:00: Barton then repeats many of the false claims about slavery in early Virginia that his son Tim recently made in an interview with sports columnist Jason Whitlock. I encourage you to read my post on that interview here.
40:00ff: Barton claims that the National Archives has placed a “Harmful Language Alert” on the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Read the National Archives “harmful content” policy here and then read this piece for more context. Barton makes it sound like these founding documents were specifically targeted for the alert. They were not. Of course Barton is also wrong when he says a “Harmful Language Alert” is the equivalent of the National Archives telling people not to read these documents.
40:44: Barton says that public schools are not educating kids, they are indoctrinating them. It takes a lot of hutzpah for David Barton, one of America’s great indoctrinators, to make such a claim. Barton’s entire career is built upon what the late Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn once called “indoctrination by historical example.”
41:00ff: Barton goes on a long riff on American exceptionalism. American is exceptional because it was founded by Christian ministers like George Whitefield and Charles Chauncy. (Barton does not mention that these two clergymen were on opposite sides of the evangelical revivals known as the First Great Awakening). Click here for a more nuanced and accurate view of religion and the founding.
47:00: Barton says that the word “hoosier” came from an evangelical preacher named Henry Hosier. He adds: “I wonder how many people in Indiana know that they were named after a Black evangelist.” Actually, this story has been debunked on multiple occasions.
48:50: Barton says that if we just “knew our own history” we would reject critical race theory. I would argue that the opposite is true. The more we know about our history the more critical race theory (rightly defined) makes sense.
49:00: Barton says that “rights” in the Declaration of Independence were “preached from the American pulpits before 1763.” Of course they were. There is nothing uniquely American about these rights. They were rights afforded to all subjects of the British empire. In an 1825 letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration, said that the document included no “new principles or new arguments, never before thought of.” Yes, the founding generation preached an idolatrous mix of Christianity and politics just like today’s Christian Right clergy. Barton even says that the Declaration of Independence was merely a list of sermon topics.
55:00ff: Barton says that the number of Christians in America is declining. He seems oblivious to the possibility that many people are leaving Christianity because they are sick and tired of the kind of Christianity that McCoy, Cawthorn, and Barton are preaching.